I’m sure you’ve been told that you must get 8 hours of sleep each night. While that’s good advice, equally important is when you sleep. Or rather, how regular your sleep schedule is.
A study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that students with regular sleep habits performed better in class and had higher GPAs than those with irregular sleep patterns.
Researchers in the study measured melatonin levels in the students’ bodies to track their circadian rhythm, or body clock. They discovered that students with irregular sleep schedules were behind based on their body clocks. At 9 a.m., an irregular sleeper’s body clock would function as if it were 6 a.m. (how do you function at 6 a.m.?).
If you need some help getting into a regular sleep schedule, here are some things you can do.
Control Your Sleep Schedule
The basic idea of maintaining a regular sleep schedule is to control it. Instead of letting yourself watch another episode of your latest binge show, pay attention to the time. Give yourself 8 hours before you need to get up and set a bedtime. With practice, keeping to a bedtime becomes easier.
In the morning, try not to press the snooze button. When you wake up is just as important to your sleep schedule as when you go to bed. Think about it like keeping time at work. Waking up is like clocking out at the end of the workday. You don’t stay late if you can avoid it, right?
This applies to weekends as well, when you might not have any plans getting you out of bed before 8 a.m. But routine is good for your body, so you’ll likely find you have more energy if you wake up at work day times instead of staying up late and sleeping in.
Prepare for Sleep
Melatonin naturally prepares your body for sleep. In sync with the daylight hours, melatonin starts producing when the sun goes down, approximately 2 hours before you go to bed. Experts often suggest disconnecting from screens a couple hours before you plan on sleeping. Your smartphone or television screens actually stimulate your brain, countering the effects of melatonin. So if you find you’re not tired when you should be starting to sleep, try removing yourself from screens when you’re trying to wind down for the day.
A hot bath will also help your body prepare for sleep. Body temperature fluctuates as melatonin levels do — your body is warm during the day and cold during the night. By taking a hot bath, you can essentially boost the cooldown that helps lead your body to sleep.
Also, watch what you eat and drink. Experts suggest refraining from caffeine after noon and allowing about 3 hours between any food and bedtime. That means no late night desserts or snacks.
Craft a Sleeping Environment
You know best what helps you sleep at night in terms of environment. For example, you probably have a hard time getting to sleep when it’s hot out. Or you might have a preference for bedding (sheet or no sheet? Open-air or need the weight of covers?).
Find out what works for you and stick to it. If you need some help, most people need a cool, quiet and dark environment.
Regular Daytime Activities
It may seem unrelated, but maintaining regularity in your daytime activities helps regulate your sleep schedule, according to a study in 2014. Depending on your work or school schedule, it may be difficult to make every day consistent, but something as simple as leaving the house at the same time every morning will help, no matter where you go or how long you’re gone.
Manage Stress Levels
Stress levels affect so many aspects of our lives; I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been kept awake by worry. There are many ways to reduce stress, so find what works for you and stick with it. Here are some techniques to get started:
- Meditate. Breathing techniques or mindfulness are both great to calm your mind.
- Journal. Write down what bothers you. Whether you keep it or toss it, getting those thoughts on paper will free your mind to transition to sleep.
- Note. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about something you don’t want to forget, keep a notebook on your nightstand so you can write it down. It’ll free you from worrying about not remembering in the morning so you can get back to sleep.
Whatever it takes to get into a regular sleep schedule, you’ll feel better during the day. If you still have trouble getting to sleep after trying these, or if you have serious insomnia, talk to your doctor. Sleep is very important so make sure you strive to get the best sleep you can.